Saint Nilus of Sora, a great ascetic of the Russian Church, was descended from the Maikov nobility. He accepted monasticism at the monastery of Saint Cyril of White Lake (June 9). Here he made use of the counsels of the pious Elder Paisius Yaroslavov, who was afterwards igumen of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra.
Saint Nilus journeyed much through the East, studying the monastic life in Palestine and on Mt. Athos. Returning to Rus, he withdrew to the River Sora in the Vologda lands, and built a cell and a chapel, where there soon grew up a monastery with a new (for that time in Rus) skete Rule adopted by Saint Nilus from Mt. Athos. Following the command of Saint Nilus, the monks had to sustain themselves by the work of their own hands, to accept charity only in extreme need, and to shun the love of things and splendor even in church. Women were not permitted in the skete, monks was not allowed to leave the skete under any pretext, and the possession of lands or estates was forbidden.
The monks lived in the forest around the small church in honor of the Meeting of the Lord, in separate cells of one or two but not more than three men. They gathered together in church for divine services. Moreover, readings from the holy Fathers were prescribed at the All-Night Vigil, which actually lasted the whole night. On other days, each one prayed and worked in his own cell.
The saint struggled constantly with his own thoughts and passions. Then peace would be born in his soul, clarity in his mind, contrition and love in his heart. In his written works, “A Tradition for my Disciple, Wishing to Live in the Wilderness,” and the “Rule,” Saint Nilus describes the steps of this salvific mental activity in detail. The first step is renunciation of the world, particularly, from every worldly distraction. The second is unceasing prayer, accompanied by the remembrance of death.
The saint was distinguished for his non-possessiveness and love for work. He dug a pond and a well, whose water had healing power. For his sanctity of life the Elder Nilus was deeply venerated by the Russian hierarchs of his time. He participated in the Councils of 1490 and 1503. Disdaining the honors and glories of this world, he told his disciples before his death either to throw his body to be eaten by beasts and birds, or to bury it without honor at the place of his struggles.
The saint died in his seventy-sixth year of life, on May 7, 1508. His relics, buried in the monastery he founded, were glorified by many miracles. The Russian Church has numbered him among the saints.
[In English, fragments of his “Tradition” and “Rule” may be found in G. Fedotov’s TREASURY OF RUSSIAN SPIRITUALITY.]